By Terry Foster
Since the invention of fire, mankind has worked tirelessly to make life easier and more comfortable. Never has mankind seen a shift in labour like we did during the industrial revolution, however technology has finally caught up. We are now in an age of unlimited potential and using automation and artificial intelligence (AI), we are quickly replacing the need for not just physical labourers but even white collar jobs as well.
So if we created these machines to make life easier than why are people so concerned about losing jobs to automation? Isn’t that our collective goal? Or are we just not prepared for the robotic revolution?
According to a study done In March 2018 by the Royal Bank Of Canada, around 50 per cent of Canadian jobs will be affected by automation in the next decade. This has resulted in one in four Canadians fearing for their future job prospects. Surprisingly, the other three-quarters of the population do not think that it will affect them and therefore are not concerned with the change.
Another study was conducted in 2016 by The Mowat Center, an independent public policy think tank run through the University of Toronto, outlined the impact of automation on the Canadian job market. Their prediction is that automation will affect upwards of seven million jobs across the nation.
But the biggest question isn’t if, but when will machines ultimately replace us?
There is no doubt that we are entering into the age of the machine. Robots and AI are much more efficient at jobs than we are. The thought of hindering progress simply over our fear of change is more an emotional response than it is a logical one. It is this fear that causes us to push back against the preparation for this event and, therefore, we have no solid plan in place to offset the wave of unemployment headed our way.
Plans were drawn up to test countermeasures to the unemployment issue including a pilot project that was testing the economical impact of implementing a Universal Basic Income, or UBI for short. Unfortunately, the new Ontario government has abandoned the project before its completion so there is insufficient data to determine the impact of a basic income on the overall economy. Other than this project, little has been done to prepare the population for the inevitable impact that automation will cause. This alone gives people reason for concern.
So what is being done to ensure that the public can maintain sustainability?
The Trudeau government has addressed the issue with plans to assist Canadians with easier access to education and retraining. The initiative is aimed at interest free student loans and easier access to funding for adults, especially those with children.
Colleges and universities across the country are looking at their own solutions by adding new programs to train students in careers that would support the technologies including engineering and robotics, AI programming and other courses designed to keep students skills relevant in the changing market.
John Tielemans, a mechanical engineering technology, robotics and automation professor, thinks the public should be concerned about the changes coming with automation and that the government isn’t doing enough to promote the right areas of education to prepare future generations for the different careers that will come.
“It is a growing problem and not much is being done about it … we can’t rely on short-term politicians to make the changes,” he said.
This is not the sort of situation that a passive Canadian government can just sit back and ignore. Automation is heading toward us like a bullet and it has the potential to either free us or spark the worst economic disaster in our nation’s history. We should all take notice and ask our officials, are we prepared?